(Last Updated On: May 19, 2016)

MEERUT: A day after reports that the ministry of AYUSH had circulated a common yoga protocol for the International Yoga Day, saying participants should chant Vedic mantras and ‘Om’ before starting the 45-minute session in order to enhance the benefits of the regimen, Darul Uloom Deoband said it has objections over religious connotations attached with yoga. The leading Islamic seminary’s muftis said if Muslim students are forced to recite Vedic mantras or chant ‘Om’ while performing yoga, they should stay away from such events.
Deoband vice-chancellor Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani told, “Had yoga been just physical exercise, we could have allowed this. But associating it with chanting of ‘Om’ and Vedic mantras gives it a religious twist. Besides, making it mandatory is unacceptable to us. Yoga can be quite beneficial for you. But it might not be good for me. In any case, it cannot be forced on everybody.”

The ‘Common Yoga Protocol’ released by the ministry gives a framework for a 45-minute programme on June 21 that includes yoga postures, meditation and chanting. The protocol has been circulated among universities, schools and offices. It says the session should begin with a “prayer in any meditative posture with namaskara mudra”. The mantra to be recited during the session has been taken from the Rig Veda.

Notably, following reports of such a circular, the ministry on Tuesday clarified chanting of ‘Om’ and other Vedic mantras before the yoga session on International Yoga Day on June 21 is not compulsory but voluntary.

“There is no compulsion to chant ‘Om’ before the yoga session. It is completely voluntary and one can remain silent. No one will object,” AYUSH ministry joint secretary Anil Kumar Ganeriwala said.

Calling media reports in this regard an attempt to make International Yoga Day controversial, he said that though chanting of ‘Om’ is an integral part of yoga, there is no move to make it compulsory. Ganeriwala said that as part of the changes, the AYUSH ministry has added one new asana in the programme and extended the time of ‘Dhyan Pranayam’ by 10 minutes.
Some political parties, however, accused the government of pushing its Hindutva agenda by asking participants to chant Vedic mantras and ‘Om’ before the session. Congress criticised the BJP-led government for being “insensitive”, saying yoga, a great discipline of ancient India, does not belong to the saffron party. JD(U) termed it yet another attempt to “impose the communal agenda” on Indian masses.The debate over whether Muslims can perform yoga, however, started much before the Modi government came to power. In 2008, Malaysia’s top Islamic body, the National Fatwa Council, had imposed a ban on yoga, saying that it combines elements of physical exercise and chanting of religious mantras. The controversy deepened after Indonesia’s top Islamic body also passed an edict in 2009 banning Muslims from practising yoga citing concerns it would corrupt their faith.

Rubbishing the controversy over the issue at that time, Deoband had said performing yoga is not un-Islamic as offering ‘namaz’ is also a form of the practice. The seminary’s then spokesperson Adil Siddiqui had said, “The purpose of yoga is simple — that is to maintain good health and it can always be performed for the sake of exercise. Yoga is not a problem in Islam, but giving a religious colour to it is wrong.”

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